As the US reaches 1 million COVID-19 deaths, Congress still has work ahead

I remember passing the National Mall in Washington, D.C. last September where small white flags stuck up from the ground almost as far as I could see. On many of the flags were the names of loved ones lost in the pandemic. At that time, at least 673,484 people had died from COVID-19 in the United States.

Today, just seven months later, that number has nearly doubled. Now, 1 million people in the United States have been lost to COVID-19. About 24 million more people are currently suffering from long COVID, which created at least 1.2 million disabled adults in 2021 compared with the year prior. More than 200,000 children have lost a primary parent or caregiver to COVID-19. It’s a somber day and one that must be used to catalyze a Congress that has become anesthetized to so much illness and pain.

While millions of people struggle to put food on the table due to the sky-high costs of housing, food and fuel, Congress has failed to take direct action to mitigate the persistent economic and health impacts of the pandemic. Under President Joe Biden’s leadership, the White House has proposed several plans to help communities, including the National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan and the Memorandum on Addressing the Long-Term Effects of Long COVID. Several congressional Democrats — including Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), as well as Reps. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Don Beyer (Va.), and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (Del.) — have all pushed legislation to provide funding for vaccines, treatment and research. 

Yet, the only legislation to even get close to a vote has been DeLauro’s COVID Supplemental bill, the investments of which were reduced from the White House’s $22.5 billion request down to $10 billion. Cutting the bill cost funding not only for the global vaccine program but also for vaccines, tests and treatment for uninsured individuals. The bill fell apart after several senators pushed an amendment to the bill that would reverse Biden’s decision to end a 2020 Trump-era Title 42 order. The Title 42 expulsion order, a controversial policy that many in public health disagree with, kept individuals from being able to seek asylum by immediately expelling them due to the belief that it helped stop the spread of communicable diseases like COVID-19.

As national programs for COVID-19 testing and treatment run out of funding, COVID-19 cases continue to spike across the country. Soon, millions of uninsured individuals will be unable to access free vaccines, testing and treatment. Poor people, particularly those who are Black, brown, and/or disabled, have borne the brunt of this pandemic. Millions of Americans are out of work due to long COVID — and they are quickly running out of savings and disability insurance. Millions more people are without loved ones. It is time for Congress to step up and take meaningful action before more Americans suffer or die.

Mia Ives-Rublee is the director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress.

Tags Coronavirus covid deaths COVID-19 Health care Joe Biden lisa blunt rochester Public health Tim Kaine

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